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Practice Makes Perfect: The Link Between Hospital Patient Volumes and Successful Outcomes

your doctor may be out of practice on certain medical proceduresThe idea that medical professionals “practice” medicine is something that we say a lot but we never really stop to examine exactly what that term means. They don’t “do” medicine. They don’t “work” medicine. They practice it.

Doctors and surgeons will tell you that every procedure and patient is different. If this wasn’t the case, then nothing would ever go wrong in surgery. Every patient would be cured of an ailment the same way. Drugs would interact with every patient the same way. Fixing a person would be no different than fixing a car.

But it doesn’t take a medical degree to know that these scenarios just aren’t realistic. And, in many cases, a patient’s outcome is directly tied to the number of times their doctor has seen and treated their particular ailment.

Recent articles in U.S. News and World Report have detailed studies into the links between hospital volume; that is, the number of patients that a particular hospital sees in a given time period, and the outcomes for those patients. The link in these studies is clear: the more practice a doctor or surgeon has, the higher the likelihood of a successful outcome for that patient. In fact, your life may depend on choosing the right hospital for your procedure.

The numbers are powerful. According to one surgeon’s research, up to 11,000 deaths may have been prevented from 2010 to 2012 if those patients had gone to higher volume hospitals for their procedures.

But sadly, that’s just the start. The surgeon’s research only took five of the most common procedures into account. Had the numbers factored in a larger number of still commonly performed surgeries, the total could have jumped into the tens of thousands.

Indeed, many of these patients may not have known that they were putting themselves at risk in the first place. Asking a few simple questions could have saved their lives.

Your doctor is a highly-esteemed member of the community. He or she is highly educated, highly compensated, and, to some, can prove to be an intimidating force. People take what their doctors say at face value and they rarely question the authority of the person standing in front of them.

But imagine for a moment that you are considering a surgical procedure. You need a hip replacement, or a heart valve procedure, or something to alleviate ongoing pain in your back. You ask your surgeon when they had last performed this particular operation. And, to your shock and horror, the doctor looks up at the ceiling and tells you that it has been about 10 months. Is all of that doctor’s authority, stature, pay, and education worth putting your life in his or her hands when another doctor at a nearby facility did the same operation five times just last week?

The rule that held true when you were a child learning a sport or a musical instrument holds true for the person standing over you with a scalpel – practice makes perfect. Make sure your doctor or surgeon has the experience necessary to ensure the most favorable outcome possible for your particular situation. Your life could depend on asking one simple question.